The NBA trade winds picked up Sunday, as the Portland Trail Blazers sent center Mason Plumlee and a 2018 second-round draft pick to the Denver Nuggets for a 2017 first-round pick and center Jusuf Nurkic.
Portland officially announced the deal Monday after Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical originally reported the news. The 2017 pick goes to Portland via the Memphis Grizzlies and is top-five protected, per RealGM.
Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey discussed the trade in the team release:
We are pleased to add a young center with Jusuf’s talent and potential to our roster and excited by the prospect of three first round picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. We also want to thank Mason for his many contributions to the organization these past two seasons. His presence will be missed and we wish him all the best for the future.
Nurkic commented on the trade via his Instagram account:
Plumlee, 26, averaged 11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks through Portland's first 54 games. He and C.J. McCollum were the only Blazers starters who played in every game this season. The former first-round pick is slated to be a restricted free agent this summer.
Nurkic, 22, averaged 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in 45 games for Denver. He began the season as the team's starting center but was unseated by the rising Nikola Jokic. Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported the Nuggets started shopping Nurkic around the league in January.
So while it's unsurprising the Nuggets moved Nurkic, their haul in this case is a little curious. Plumlee is a rim-runner who can theoretically play next to Jokic, whose high-post passing and ability to stretch the floor are Pau Gasol-esque. The Nuggets are nevertheless trading one center for another and handing out a first-round pick in the process.
Plumlee and Jokic fit together better than Nurkic and Jokic, but it's not going to be seamless. Denver's also going to have to pay Plumlee this summer or face giving up a first-round pick for no return.
Portland's motivation is potentially threefold. The Blazers' spending spree last summer left them in a tight bind with Plumlee. They're weak at the big-man spots, and his rim-running helped free up Damian Lillard and McCollum. But he's also going to be expensive. Barring a trade of either Evan Turner or Allen Crabbe in a salary dump, it would have been difficult to pay Plumlee without going deep into the luxury tax.
For a team that's 23-31, that isn't fiscally prudent. Nurkic is locked into his rookie deal through next season, which gives the Blazers an extra year to figure things out while still having an NBA-quality starting center.
Portland will have to adjust to his relative lack of lateral movement, and he won't create the same quality looks on rim runs, but Nurkic has shown flashes in his three NBA seasons.
The move may also signal a mea culpa from Portland's front office for its spending spree. Last year's team always felt like an overachiever, and doubling down on that roster stood out as a bit strange. By moving Plumlee ahead of his free agency, it could signal more moves coming down the pike.